Students need to be careful when crossing the street when being let off a school bus.
A new product invented locally is helping to make students more aware of crossing the street and teaching them to watch bus drivers for when to cross.
Victoria DeCarlo, a bus driver for Lake Shore Central School for 19 years, invented the Steffi Crosser in 2011. The Steffi Crosser is similar to a glove that bus drivers can wear on their hand.
The Steffi Crosser, invented by a local bus driver of 19 years, helps students see the universal cross signal bus drivers use.
It is made of the same material as reflective vests. DeCarlo got the idea after having troubles with students crossing the street.
"It was a new (bus) run and there was a road I would stop at, Steffi Drive. The teenagers had to walk to the end of the road (to be picked up) since it was a dead end," DeCarlo said.
Those students would have a hard time seeing DeCarlo's hand signal due to the angle of the road and headlight reflections, she said.
The Steffi Crosser is outlined in orange with a silver arrow on a yellow background and is worn on the back side of the bus driver's palm.
Since the Steffi Crosser reflects light, students can see it more easily than a bare hand. When designing the crosser, DeCarlo did not want a full glove to wear in summer time and she recalled wearing archery gloves.
"I use to put on my father's archery glove and go out in the field," she said. "It reminded me of that."
DeCarlo started making the crosser by hand. She used a seam ripper to tear apart old safety vests. It took the majority of last winter for DeCarlo to make 150 gloves. The Steffi Crosser was named after Steffi Drive, the road which she first noticed a problem. DeCarlo said the product helps with students knowing when to cross but the most important part is education. DeCarlo said many motorists go through the stopping red lights of school buses.
"When I trained my students to look for the Steffi Crosser through the windshield I told them 'If you don't see this, you don't Cross,'" DeCarlo said. "(Students) remember to look for the Steffi Crosser. It's so simple and effective what a few instructions and a symbol can do towards the safety of our students' lives."
The Steffi Crosser was invented last November. DeCarlo was the only driver using it at the time but it slowly caught on with the other drivers in the district. In June, DeCarlo made a presentation to the Lake Shore Board of Education.
"After the meeting, Assistant Superintendent Dan Pacos came up to me and said, 'We're buying these and we're going to implement these in September,'" she said.
Locally, Cassadaga Valley, Frontier and Iroquois districts are using the Steffi Crosser. It has also sold in Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, Oregon, Illinois, New Hampshire and Louisiana, and Massena and New Paltz in New York state.
On hand kits can also be purchased for the Steffi Crosser. These kits contain each size - small, medium and large - of the Steffi Crosser and are available to be placed above a driver's head, in case a driver were to forget or there is a substitute driver. These kits will now be made locally at the Resource Center in Dunkirk.
DeCarlo said the Steffi Crosser has been successful and credits it to saving a middle school student's life. A male student and his sister lived on Old Lake Shore Road in Angola, and he would cross before DeCarlo gave him the signal. When she started using the Steffi Crosser she told the boy, "If you don't see this, you don't cross."
The male student was a new student to the district and was not used to crossing for a bus driver. He would start to cross but would remember what DeCarlo said and stop. He was crossing "beautifully" with the Steffi Crosser for almost two weeks, she said.
"The one morning, first time there's a car coming at us, my red (lights) are on. ... (The student) had his lacrosse stick and his driveway meets the road. He's looking at me and I'm looking at the oncoming vehicle and it's slowing down almost to a stop.
"I went to (cross him) but everything inside of me was screaming 'Don't cross him.' (The student) was getting closer to the road. I still went (no). That car stepped on it ... went right at the kid ... and the kid didn't (see the car). The mirrors hit the lacrosse stick, spun the kid around. It kept him on his feet. I asked him "Why didn't you go into the street like you always do?' It was because he was trying to see the Steffi (Crosser)," she said.
The product has also helped children with special needs. During a training session at a local school, DeCarlo was told about an autistic student who used a handmade book by his teacher to teach school bus safety. The cover of the book was a picture of the Steffi Crosser.
"(The bus monitor) said, 'We had to cross (the student) on a daily basis holding up the book with the picture of your hand with the Steffi Crosser," she said. "It was the only way he would cross."
DeCarlo has seen much improvement by using the Steffi Crosser with her students; even with younger students she has seen a difference. She said many students would cross whenever they saw a hand movement - whether it was the signal to cross or to stop.
"It's a revolutionary way of crossing. There's nothing out there in the industry," DeCarlo said. "Parents think that the red lights and the stop arms (their) kid is safe but they're not."
Not only are school bus drivers utilizing the product, but construction workers are as well. According to DeCarlo, students had told her they have seen construction workers using the Steffi Crosser. Fire Police are also looking into using the product for their work, DeCarlo said.
The Steffi Crosser can be bought online through its website. Hundreds have already sold throughout the state and country. For more information on the product, including instructional videos, visit www.steffiproducts.com.
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